Life with Moxie: Comfort soups for chilly days

“If you feel all damp and lonely like a mushroom, find the thick, creamy soup of joyfulness and just dive into it in order to make life tastier”
― Munia Khan

Comfort food is often craved when we are feeling under the weather or the weather itself is less that appealing, from gray skies to the inability to real get warm and comfortable in freezing temperatures. Comfort food is also typically really unhealthy, think potato chips, macaroni and cheese or corn dogs. According to Shahram Heshmat with Psychology Today, there are five reasons we crave these foods.

To feel good (sugar, fat and salt trip the brain like a drug addict)
To self-medicate (when we are depressed, we tend to crave these)
To belong (think family dinner favorites)
Nostalgia (childhood memories)
Special occasions (Christmas, 4th of July)

Fortunately, we can satiate negative feelings of our extended gray skies and maybe tap into some nostalgia for us with really delicious hearty soups that also happen to be really good for you! They also happen to be very simple to make while being a huge crowd pleaser. I look so forward to cooking soup because I am in love with my soup pot, a gorgeous cast iron Dutch oven that I adore. Finding cooking pieces that you love, be it knives, wood cutting boards, etc., is key to getting excited about cooking.

Here are a handful of my very favorites from the Life with Moxie Cookbook. Add to these a crusty loaf of bread with olive oil to dip, a really great wine and you’ve got yourself a delicious, comforting and very satisfying meal.

“I feed on good soup, not beautiful language.” — Moliere

Corn Chowder

Serves 8-10
Prep 30 mins. if fresh corn, 10 mins. if frozen
Cook 40 mins.
Gluten free, organic

Thanks to our global economy, corn is a year-round option, however the local, seasonal edition of summer will always provide the most wonderful flavor! Whether for this recipe or for simple corn-on-the-cob, when boiling the corn, don’t add either salt or sugar to the water. That’s an old habit from decades ago that was never revisited. Today, corn has much more flavor and that step just adds unnecessary, unhealthy ingredients. When shopping for fresh corn, look for tightly wrapped husks, fresh golden silk at the top, and plump kernels and always organic to avoid GMO’s, as corn is still the largest GMO crop in the U.S. If you can’t find fresh organic, then go with frozen, its very easy to find organic.

2 packages of soy bacon, roughly 10 ounces, chopped for garnish
1/4 cup olive oil
4 large yellow or Vidalia onions (or equivalent size wise, around 6 cups)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (substitute rice or almond flour for gluten free edition)
2 teaspoons gray salt
1 teaspoon black peeper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric (not a crisis if you’re out, but good for color and health!)
12 cups vegetable broth or bouillon/water equivalent (if gluten is an issue, not all bouillon cubes are gluten free, Edward & Sons brand are all gluten free- see resources)
2 pounds white potatoes, scrubbed and cut into smaller cubes with skin on
10 cobs of organic corn (or 3 pounds organic frozen if not in season)
2 cups flax or soy milk (unflavored, unsweetened)

If using fresh corn on the cob, add cobs to plain(unsalted and unsugared) boiling water for ten minutes, remove and let cool. Then cut kernels from cob and set aside. If using frozen, no prep is needed.

In a full-size stockpot, heat olive oil, add cut bacon, sauté until crisp, then remove bacon and leave as much oil in the pot as you can. Set aside for garnish. Add onions to the pot with bacon oil, add a splash more oil if needed, as the soy bacon tends to absorb it. Sautee until translucent, then stir in the combined mixture of flour, salt, pepper and turmeric until blended. Add broth, bring to boil. Add potatoes, reduce heat to medium for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add corn and milk, cook for five more minutes, further season, if needed, with salt and pepper. Serve hot, garnished with bacon crisps.

Chefs tips

When fresh, local, organic corn is in season, stock up! Spending just a couple hours prepping to freeze will give you a season of farm fresh flavor that you’ll notice and you’ll be delighted with yourself every time you have it.

Alternate ideas

-Add four whole black cardamom pods, they impart a smoky grilled flavor; remove for serving.
-Add a soy cheddar cheese as garnish, or add to soup, 1/4 to 1/2 pound.
-Make a “cream of” soup by simply blending soup. You can even add up to a block tofu for a protein kick… just add to blender.
-Add sweet curry (the yellow one) and coconut flour instead of all-purpose.

Even healthier*

-Add a block of silken tofu for extra protein that won’t affect the flavor.

Classic Potato Leek

Serves 6-8
Prep 15 mins.
Cook 40 mins.
Gluten free

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup vegan butter
3 leeks, cleaned and sliced through light green
6 cups diced potatoes, Yukon gold preferably
6 cups vegetable broth
1 cup vegan sour cream (I use tofutti, some brands have a very strange after taste that shows up in cooking, I know that tofutti works well here, no guarantees on other brands.)
1 cup plain soymilk

In a large pot, sauté leeks in the olive oil and butter over medium-high. Add diced potatoes, sauté for five minutes. Add vegetable broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender. Add sour cream and soy milk, then blend with an immersion blender until creamy, but chunks still remain. Add salt and pepper to taste, top with chopped parsley or fresh chives to garnish.

Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 6
Prep 30 mins.
Cook 35 mins.
Gluten free

1 whole butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup sliced baby Bella mushrooms
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon sage, ground
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups water
1 not-chicken bouillon cube (see resources, or just use vegetable)z
5 ounces silken tofu

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the squash in two, width-wise at the waist, so you have two vertical sections that stand flat on a cutting board. With a serious knife, manually trim skin off from top to bottom. Once clean, cut up squash (scrapping out seeds and reserving) into one-inch cubes. Place cubes in large mixing bowl and drizzle olive oil over and toss to coat. Place cubes on a cookie sheet and roast 20-25 minutes until fork-tender and the edges are brown.

While squash is roasting, in a heavy larger soup pot, heat olive oil and sauté onion and garlic until translucent, add mushrooms and sauté until the water lets down. Add, bay leaves, sage, cannellini beans, water, bouillon cube and tofu. Cover and simmer until squash is ready, then add squash to soup base, stir well. Remove bay leaves. In small batches (about 2-3 cups) add to blender and puree until well blended (be sure you have a tight lid and hold it on with a towel on top of the lid- some always manages to spit out for some reason and its HOT!). Or use an immersion blender, and if you don’t have one, get one, it’s a huge time saver! Pour pureed soup into in the mixing bowl used to toss squash, then add to soup base for many fall/winter meals. Continue until all soup is pureed. Return soup to cooking pot, season to taste.

Cheater options*
Many editions of squash, including pumpkin, are available in canned editions, pureed and also in the freezer section either cubed or pureed. Just be sure it’s unseasoned, no pumpkin pie filling!

Alternate Ideas*

-Any “squash,” including pumpkin, can be substituted here, with Acorn being the most similar in flavor.
-Other white beans can be substituted here if you’re out of Cannellini.
-Other mushrooms can be substituted as well. Button mushrooms do not have a terribly distinctive flavor, so that’s a quick easy and less expensive trade. Shitakes have a stronger earthy/meaty flavor that is noticeable and is a very powerful healing food! Shitakes are very much worth the effort of becoming familiar with. If adding shitakes, be sure are remove the stems before adding as they remain tough… save them, however, for future vegetable broth making.
-Other root vegetables can be added for variation. Have a stray carrot left, throw it in to the roasting batch.

The roasted squash component of this recipe is a fantastic stand-alone side for many fall/winter meals. Just add finely chopped rosemary or your other favorite herbs and sprinkle them, with a dash of salt, over the squash before cooking.

White Bean and Chick’n Chili

Serves 4-6
Prep 15 mins.
Cook 30 mins.
Gluten free, organic, low-carb

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large mild green chili, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour (use cornstarch for gluten-free)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 16-ounce cans organic navy or white kidney beans (cannellini)
2 cups vegetable broth (1 can)
12 ounces vegan chick’n strips of your choice, cut up to small bite-size (select gluten-free options if interested)

Garnishing Options

Shredded vegan cheese
Vegan sour cream (I prefer Tofutti)
Sliced scallions

In a large skillet, sauté bite-sized pieces of chick’n until browned, remove from skillet and set aside. In same skillet, cook onion and garlic in oil until transparent, roughly five minutes. Add chilies, flour and cumin; stir for a few more minutes then add two cans beans with liquid, add broth, then heat to boil. Reduce to simmer until it thickens, then add browned chick’n. Maintain simmer until chick’n is hot, then serve, garnishing as desired.

Cheater version*

-replace green chili with 4-ounce can green chilies, drained

It’s chilly, in some places its downright freezing and we are in need of truly nourishing and satisfying home cooking. Tonight, let it be soup.

Have ideas you’d like to add? Need more suggestions? Let me know!

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